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Guitar Hero III Hands-on
The rock fest continues with Neversoft at the helm. First look at the wireless guitar and screens are here.
by Erik Brudvig
May 30, 2007 - There was no way that the Guitar Hero franchise could continue to break all sales expectations and not get noticed by the big dogs of the business world. RedOctane and Harmonix, the two teams responsible for the hit franchise, got snatched up by Activsion and MTV respectively thus ending their partnership for future Guitar Hero games. Of course, we haven't heard the last of Axel Steel or Johnny Napalm. Activision put the development in the able hands of Neversoft, a team best known for the Tony Hawk series.
Neversoft's driving philosophy behind Guitar Hero III is a simple one: Give the fans what they want. That means the development team won't rock the boat too hard, staying true to the gameplay first laid out by Harmonix. But it also means that more of the songs and features we've all been clamoring for will finally make it in.
The song list has been carefully picked to meet the wishlists that have littered the internet since Guitar Hero was first released on PS2. More of the songs will be master tracks rather than covers. New multiplayer modes have been confirmed. A wireless controller is on the way. In short, you can put your fears aside. This is the same Guitar Hero we've all come to know and love. It looks a little different and has a few new fancy bells and whistles to get you excited all over again, but it's still Guitar Hero.
Since Harmonix is now owned by MTV and hard at work on Rock Band, Neversoft wasn't given access to the code from previous Guitar Hero games. That means Guitar Hero III is being built from the ground up. Even so, the basic gameplay is identical so the learning curve should be nonexistent. When we first jacked in ready to rock, we were met with instant failure. With Neversoft and RedOctane folks all around, awkwardness abounded.
You see, the timing window for when you can hit a note is not quite the same as Guitar Hero I and II. Not to worry. Neversoft is bringing in testers regularly to get their opinion on timing (amongst other things) and are constantly adjusting the window to nail the sweet spot. Even without being used to the timing on this early build, it only took about 2 minutes before we were ripping out fast licks with precision. After the opening miscues and adjustment, the game felt like the old glove it should and the fun kicked in. It only took a minor adjustment on our part and there's no reason for us to believe that Neversoft won't have the timing nailed down to perfection by the time the game releases this fall. For those that worry Guitar Hero III will be too hard (and let's face it, Guitar Hero II was hard!), Neversoft has assured us that they're not aiming to make the game even harder. Instead, they're aiming for a difficulty level somewhere between the first and second Guitar Hero Games.
Although the notes scroll down the screen in the same fashion as other Guitar Hero games, a few changes have been made to the rest of the display. The score multiplier box behaves the same, although it looks a bit different. The same goes for the star power meter which now consists of lights instead of a regular power meter. One big addition is the new inclusion of a string counter. If you hit enough notes in a row, a counter will pop up to tell you exactly how many notes you've nailed without a mistake. No longer will you have to wonder how close you are to stringing together 1000 notes. The screen will have all of the info you need.
The visual style has also been tweaked just a bit, giving everything a slightly more realistic feel to it while still maintaining the over the top feel that previous Guitar Hero games have. We saw a few of the rockers who are returning for another tour that highlighted these changes. Judy Nails is a bit more of a punk-goth girl now. Johnny Napalm still has his trademark mohawk and wiry frame along with some oversized feet to give him a comic book feel. Xavier Stone looks a bit less like Lenny Kravitz and more like Hendrix as he sports '60s attire and hair.
The venues will be all new and are being designed to match the feel of the career progression. There won't be any licensed locales in this game. The team toyed with that idea and tossed it out to give the art team more freedom to design some really killer backdrops. Your band starts out playing in a lowly dive bar that sports a few extra dancers in skimpy clothing to keep the crowd's attention (nothing too revealing, but it adds to overall feeling that this game is a bit more hardcore). We saw a few of the latter venues as well, including an art deco theater that features a giant dragon getting its head chopped off as the opening stage prop. The last stage we saw was modeled after the classic music festival. Think Bonnaroo; giant stage, huge lights, and a massive crowd.
Like all good music rhythm games, Guitar Hero is best played with a group of friends. Neversoft, a company which had been throwing weekly Friday night Guitar Hero office parties even before they had anything to do with the game, knows this well. Much of what is new with Guitar Hero III that we've seen so far comes in the multiplayer side of things. The game is still only for two players and the face off and pro face off modes are still present without any noticeable changes to the format. Co-op and battle mode are where things get interesting.
The co-op mode from Guitar Hero II has been reworked into its own career mode. That means you and a friend will be able to work together to move through a two player career, unlocking songs as you go. It won't be the same as the single player career though. Instead, it will have its own song list, pulled from the master list to only include the songs best suited for two players. The co-op set list isn't finalized yet, but it may end up having a few surprises that you don't find in the single player career.
Battle mode is Neversoft's attempt at turning the end of the movie Crossroads into a game. No, we're not talking about the Britney Spears movie. Shame on you if that's what popped into your mind. We're talking about the Ralph Macchio flick that ends with a guitar battle between him and Steve Vai. When the mode was first described to us, it didn't sound too interesting. Once we tried it out, we had a blast. Check back Friday for an in-depth look and impressions on how this new multiplayer mode plays.
When the Guitar Hero franchise made its first appearance on the current generation of hardware on Xbox 360, two important features were missing in action. On a console that is increasingly defined by its online features, Guitar Hero II had no online modes of play. In a game that is all about rocking out to your hearts extent, players were tethered to their consoles with a wired controller. Both of these issues will fade to black with Guitar Hero III.
Neversoft was keeping tightlipped about the online play when we sat down to talk Guitar Hero with them. It does exist though and we can probably expect most of the same multiplayer modes that exist offline to make their way online and perhaps a few we haven't heard about yet. They did tell us that they're aiming for identical online features for both PS3 and Xbox 360 and that it would "rock."
The new Les Paul inspired controller will be the first 3rd party Xbox 360 wireless controller. Microsoft finally budged and allowed RedOctane to license their technology. While we only got our hands on the nonfunctional 360 prototype version, we were told the PS3 controller would be similar in design and features.
There are several instantly recognizable changes to the controller, aside from the shape of the body and lack of wire. The buttons on the fret board have gone back to the rounded shape first used on the PS2 Guitar Hero controller. They still have the same color layout, but now have a mostly black face to make the controller look less like a toy and more like a real axe. New removable faceplates have added as well. The one we saw was plain white, but it seems likely that RedOctane will have a variety of different designs up for sale when the guitar releases. It doesn't look too difficult to pop the faceplate off and mod it yourself either.
The guide button and d-pad have been moved to prevent accidental presses and the start and back buttons have been replaced with the original circular "knob" buttons from the PS2 model. The guitar also has to places to strap in on the neck and, get this, a removable neck. The neck can unlock for easier travel and RedOctane wasn't shy about hinting that they may have other plans in store for that functionality.
Read and see more on the wireless axe on IGN Gear.
There's not much to complain about with Guitar Hero III which shows just how far Neversoft is going to keep up with what the fans want. It's more of the same, but it's also a lot more. Check back tomorrow as IGN takes a deeper look at the songs that have been announced so far as well as a couple you haven't heard about yet.